Transgender Politics vs. the Facts of Life
“The Liberal World Does Not Know for Sure What a Man or Woman Is”
By Nancy Pearcey
California has just passed a new law saying school districts may not bar transgender students from same-sex settings, like men’s basketball teams or women’s locker rooms (Assembly Bill 1266). Opponents promptly submitted a referendum to overturn the law. But it will take more than the usual political activism to stop the momentum on what some are calling the next major drive for “equality.”
It will take a serious, sustained program of education in both scientific facts and real respect.
Every law has an implicit worldview, a set of assumptions that justifies it. The worldview implicit in the transgender movement is that our physical bodies have no particular value — that our biology is irrelevant to who we are as persons.
Consider the language used. Several states and school districts have passed laws on “transgender discrimination,” and most read something like this (from a 2011 California law): “Gender . . . includes a person’s gender identity and gender related appearance and behavior whether or not stereotypically associated with the person’s assigned sex at birth.”
What’s the key word here? Assigned. As though a person’s “sex at birth” were purely arbitrary instead of a scientific, biological fact.
What such language implies is that biological facts do not matter. The law is being used to impose a worldview that denigrates the physical body as inconsequential to personal identity. It is a worldview that drives a wedge between one’s body and one’s sense of self, which exerts a self-alienating, fragmenting effect on the human personality.
The transgender movement is a stepping stone to a completely postmodern conception of psychosexual identity. What does that mean? A psychotherapist explains in these words: People “don’t want to fit into any boxes — not gay, straight, lesbian, or bisexual ones. . . . they want to be free to change their minds.”
The quote appears in an article addressed to people who had “come out” as homosexuals but were later attracted to heterosexual relationships again. So what am I? they asked. Not to worry, the psychotherapist said. We’re moving away from “the old, modernist way of thinking” that we are born with a gender that does not change because it is rooted in our biological identity.
Instead we are moving to a postmodern view that gender is something we can choose, independent of biology — and thus something we can also change.
The New York Times reports that at some universities, students no longer have to check “Male” or “Female” on their health forms. Instead they are asked to “describe your gender identity history.” In other words, which gender identities have you embraced over your lifetime?
This is not some fringe idea. It is already mainstream. Virtually all sex education curricula take their lead from the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, which has stated, “Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of being male, female, or a combination of these” and “may change over the course of their lifetimes.”
A few weeks ago, an NPR program featured young people who literally changed their gender identity throughout the day. “At one college, things were so fluid you could make up a different pronoun for a different event,” NPR said. Students might go to lunch as a he, then to class as a she. “We encountered high school students who said, I reject the gender [male/female] binary as an oppressive move by the dominant culture.”
Admittedly, some young people are merely rejecting culturally contingent social roles. As one liberal pastor put it, questions of gender tend to get mixed up in attempts “to restore the ‘traditional’ gender roles of the (Eisenhower-era middle-upper-class) family.”
But many are going further, insisting that gender identity has nothing to do with biology. In an internet forum discussing transgenderism, someone wrote, Why should anyone care about “some little bit of flesh between the legs?” Why should that make a difference to your sense of who you are?
The autonomous self will not tolerate having its options limited by anything it did not choose — not even its own body.
We can call this view liberalism, employing a definition by the self-described liberal philosopher Peter Berkowitz. In his words, liberal thinkers focus on “dimensions of life previously regarded as fixed by nature” and seek to show that in reality they are “subject to human will and remaking.” For liberals, even your identity as male or female is now open to “human will and remaking.”
This radical autonomy may be promoted as liberation, but it is a devastatingly disrespectful view of the physical body. The implication is that your body is not part of your authentic self.
A few years ago, Christianity Today quoted a female United Methodist minister who underwent a sex change operation to become a male. Her explanation was, “My body didn’t match what I am.” Clearly, she did not regard her body as part of “what I am.” She did not think of her body aspart of her authentic self.
Of course, humans are more than biological beings. But biology gives an objective, scientifically detectable baseline for human identity.
When disconnected from biology, gender identity becomes subjective and ultimately unknowable. In a book titled Omnigender, the author says that all sexual identities are now up for grabs. A review of the book said — and this was written in all seriousness — “Arguments against women’s ordination need wholesale revamping since we do not know for sure now what a woman is.”
The liberal world does not know for sure what a man or woman is.
Not that long ago, nature was regarded as God’s creation, endowed with God’s purposes. This is called a teleological view of nature (from the Greektelos, meaning goal or purpose), and it is supported by the most evident empirical facts: Eyes are designed for seeing and ears for hearing; wings are designed for flying and flippers for swimming.
Of course, our physical bodies are part of nature, so they too were respected as having a purpose, a meaning, a moral significance.
But at the heart of liberalism is the denial of purpose in nature. Historically, the key turning point was Charles Darwin. The central elements in Darwin’s theory — random variations, sifted by the blind, automatic process of natural selection — were aimed specifically at getting rid of the concept of purpose or design in biology. As historian Jacques Barzun says, “This denial of purpose is Darwin’s distinctive contention.”
Today we are seeing the real-world results of this denial. Transgenderism treats the scientific facts of human biology as having no intrinsic purpose or significance. It treats the body as nothing but a piece of matter that gives people no clue about who they are as persons. It is a self-alienating worldview that teaches people that their identity as male or female has no inherent purpose or dignity. (For more, see chapter 3 in my book Saving Leonardo.)
Liberals often portray the morality of the Bible as negative and restrictive. But in reality, Biblical morality honors humans as embodied beings. It respects our identity as male and female, thus leading to integrity and wholeness. The root of the word integrity means whole, integrated, unified — our minds and emotions in tune with our physical body.
A Biblical worldview offers a positive message that respects the whole person and is motivated by love and compassion.
Because every law presupposes a worldview, the most effective way to address the law is to show the negative impact of the underlying worldview. For the law to be humane, it must reflect a view of the person that is holistic, integrating gender identity with the biological facts of life.
It is far better to respect the facts than to fight against them.
The Revolt of Intelligence Against “Marriage Equality,” by J. Richard Pearcey
Why Pro-Abortion Is Anti-Science, by Nancy Pearcey
Morgan GuytonSeptember 26, 2013 - 11:15 am
I’m not sure what got me designated as a “liberal pastor.” My hope is that you’re genuinely interested in seeking God’s truth through charitable dialogue on this issue rather than just preaching for your amen chorus and dismissively labeling people who are pursuing the same goal of Biblical faithfulness that you seek.
Coincidentally, I wrote another piece about this topic today that seeks to make a distinction between liberal sexual libertinism (which is sinful) and the possibility that there are people out there whose biology really does involve one gender in terms of hormones and another in terms of anatomy (we already know there are people who are created anatomically both): http://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/can-god-make-people-who-dont-fit/. I don’t see any reason not to help people whose biology is genuinely different than standard male or female to find a holy and chaste way of living within their biological difference.
The irony of your opposition to the possibility of transgender or intergender identity is that you’re actually the one who’s saying in effect that “our physical bodies have no particular value — that our biology is irrelevant to who we are as persons.” If we are just gnostic souls veiled in evil flesh, then people who have been biologically tested and confirmed to be hormonally one gender while being anatomically another should just suck it up and ignore their biology in order to fit into the categories that the rest of us fit into naturally.
So here are some questions for you. Does God have the right to create people whose gender is more complicated than all male or all female, but instead some combination of the two? Is there any reason that creating humanity “male and female” cannot possibly involve this nuance? Are you willing to accept that you cannot prognosticate about the motives of people who from very young ages are somehow saying that they’re girls even though they’re anatomically boys or vice-versa, the difference being that they don’t get beaten into silence now like they might have a hundred years ago?
It is as eisegetical to use Genesis 1:27 as a Biblically prescriptive prohibition against the possibility of gendered otherness as it would be to say that astronomy is sinful based on Genesis 1:14’s description of stars as lights in the dome God built to separate the waters above the sky from the waters below it.
I urge you to seek God’s truth on this matter without an agenda tainted by loyalty to any party’s platform. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m willing to accept that God may have correction for me to receive from you; and I hope you are willing to accept the same. May His light deliver all of us from our errors.
adminSeptember 27, 2013 - 1:39 pm
Thank you for your response to our posting of Nancy Pearcey’s piece. It is deserving of a thoughtful response, beyond the time that I currently have available. You could direct your query to Nancy at the Pearcey Report where her piece was originally published.
Jessica Torrez-JerkovichSeptember 27, 2013 - 3:37 am
I really appreciate your article. I hope more parents instill this in their children and set the example through their own lives. I am struggling with two pre teens who sre ambivalent. I am not sure if this is because of society and peer pressure, or if I am failing to instill the beauty and gifts God gave to a man and a woman. Thank you for the inspiration to to continue fighting for the truth against the liberal worl view.
adminSeptember 27, 2013 - 1:41 pm
Thanks for your comment, Jessica. God will honor your efforts at responsible parenting. I’m glad we could be of service to you, sister.